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Mental Health, | 09.23.21

Uncomfortable Emotions are Really Helpful Guides

If you don’t like uncomfortable emotions, you’re not alone. It’s normal and natural to want to avoid discomfort. People watch funny movies when they’re sad, have a glass of wine after a long day at work, and eat ice cream to deal with a breakup. 

But what happens when these distractions are used so much that it becomes hard to tell what we’re really feeling at all, or perhaps the thought of feeling all those feelings just seems too overwhelming? If we eat food every time we feel uncomfortable, not only are we going to start feeling bad about our relationship with food and ourselves, but we’re likely going to be really out of touch with our emotions. And because our emotions are our best indicators of what’s important to us, what we care about, and what we should pay attention to, when we don’t pay attention to them we start to feel pretty lost.

The common thread for most people who struggle with addiction is a motivation to decrease and cope with negative emotions (contrary to the common belief that people who struggle with addiction just want hedonistic pleasure). So it would make sense that people who struggle with food addiction or other addictions need to practice this skill of tolerating discomfort without making it go away.

Where do I start?

Starting to allow and feel feelings without trying to change them can feel like an extremely overwhelming and daunting task. But the thing to remember about emotions is that they are not dangerous or harmful. So although we may feel very uncomfortable, we are 100% safe. To help remind your body that you are safe, make a plan for setting aside some quiet time to write down or reflect on your emotions in a place you feel comfortable and safe, like sitting on your couch under a cozy blanket, drinking some tea.

What if the emotions start to feel too intense?

Take a break and come back to your feelings if you are starting to feel overwhelmed. You can listen to some music, use an ice pack, or take a warm bath to self-soothe and calm down your nervous system. The most important thing is that you don’t avoid your emotions indefinitely or go to numb them out. That only reinforces that you can’t handle what you’re feeling and takes you farther away from understanding what your emotions are really trying to tell you!

What are my emotions telling me?

Once you’ve taken some time to pay attention to your emotions, your might wonder what it all means. The best way to understand what you’re feeling is to stop judging what you’re feeling. There’s no right or wrong way to feel, and shaming yourself into feeling something differently simply doesn’t work. Instead, ask yourself “what could this feeling be telling me right now? Why might it make sense?” For example, if you’re feeling sad indicates that you care about someone or something, feeling lonely indicates that you seeking connection and support, and guilt is saying that you did something that doesn’t line up with your values that you want to correct for in the future. Emotions are excellent indicators of what is most important to us and how we should adjust our behavior to decrease our suffering in the future. 

All in all, starting to feel your feelings takes a lot of practice, patience, and self-validation. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but with time and consistent practice, you can learn how to approach discomfort, rather than avoid it, and work towards living a life that is more in line with your integrity and values. 

Want more support? Check out Molly’s youtube channel and subscribe to the Sunday Love Letter to get support, information, and motivation on your journey to create a loving relationship with food. 

Photo by Ana Tavares on Unsplash

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